I have worked as a Catholic lay leader involved in renewal and reconciliation in Ireland for more than 41 years. Recently I've seen so many faithful Catholic Christians lose hope. There have been many good programmes but they have not yet brought renewal and revival.
In the UK, Holy Trinity Brompton, the church that pioneered Alpha, has become a model of vibrancy within the Anglican church, teaming with young adults and inspiring many other churches across the world.
Last year I read a book, Rebuilt, which documented the transformation of Church of the Nativity Catholic parish in the United States city of Baltimore, led by Fr Michael White PP and lay minister Tom Corcoran, a married man with five children.
Though it was dying some 16 years ago, the parish has been transformed, with many young adults in the revived congregation. It grew by 700 last year, and now has a full-time paid staff of 17 that includes two worship leaders.
They simply had the humility to learn from the successful methods of vibrant Protestant and Pentecostal churches.
It is the best Catholic book I’ve read. At last here is a possible model for struggling Irish Catholic parishes, as confirmed by the response from clergy, one of whom had been contemplating leaving the church, saying: “It has given me hope.” Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, with whom I discussed the book, was also taken by it.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, wrote in his foreword: "Rebuilt takes the new evangelisation seriously and points the way forward for others to do the same. The approach you'll discover is rooted in scripture. It is also completely Catholic . . . If you love your parish, read this book."
Here are four ideas from the book that any Irish parish could adopt:
1: Move from maintenance to mission. “It was both a leadership challenge and a management one. Nearly every parishioner who complained left the parish. The purpose of Nativity parish now is to reach lost people and to help them become disciples.”
2: Improve the Mass experience.
“In Nativity, we had a music programme; what we needed was a worship programme. Music must be all about attracting the lost and growing disciples through worship. Coming to church and not singing is like going to the gym and not working out. You’ve got to sing.”
Volunteer ministers: “It is essential to mobilise committed parishioners to serve. We now have the parking team, the host team, the information team, the cafe team and a prayer team.”
Mobilise the next generation: “We are convinced that weekend programmes for children that stand alongside Mass . . . are critically important. We have: kidzone (six months to three years); not babysitting . . . they hear scripture, sing worship songs, and listen to Bible stories through puppets; All-Stars (three to six) – a play/worship/ learn environment; time travellers (six to nine) – Bible readings, based on the lectionary, recited by costumed characters from the Bible story. Includes high-energy worship.”
Student programme (nine to 18) – four age groups. “Programmes include fun, with lots of adult ministers available to interact; then worship and a message given by our youth minister.”
3: Start small groups. “Without Christ-centred friendships, our walk of faith will most certainly be a slower, less steady one, and we’re far more likely to fail and fall. We also have small groups for students and kids. We’re convinced that weekly small groups in a parish is the way forward for the whole
4: Teach responsible giving. “We got rid of fund-raising events. One Sunday a year we have a financial appeal – no nagging . . . just a reminder of a simple fact: this is your church, they’re your staff and it’s your responsibility to pay them. The focus of the message is all about the good and great work that their offering is funding. Today . . . our income has grown substantially and we’ve eliminated all our debt.”
This week in NUI Maynooth, the archdiocese of Dublin is supporting an Alpha Ireland conference featuring the authors of Rebuilt. This provides an opportunity of grace for the whole church in this island. May our priests and ministers not miss it.
The conference begins tomorrow and continues on Thursday. It will be opened by Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty and closed by Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Rt Rev Ken Good. Rebuilt is available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Paddy Monaghan is a parish pastoral council member in Johnstown/Killiney Catholic parish, south Co Dublin. He has had a lifetime commitment to renewal and reconciliation among Christians